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Second Honorable Mention
Vincent Astor Memorial Leadership Essay Contest
Ours Versus Theirs
By Lieutenant Thomas A. Parker, U. S. Navy
The United States has a rich tradition of military leadership which began in the Revolutionary War. The Soviet Union has also enjoyed tremendous military success since the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. The Soviet philosophy of military leadership- however, is profoundly different from our own. The basis for these differences lies in the social and political system which has evolved since the Bolshevik Revolution. It is important that we in the U. S. military possess at least a basic understanding of the motivation, training, and philosophy of the Soviet military leader. Therefore, I will compare the major dissimilarities between each system's leadership philosophy, identifying the major strengths and weaknesses of each.
U. S. military leadership;TheU. S. philosophy of military leadership places the burden of effective leadership solely upon the individual. This emphasis upon leadership permeates every layer of the command structure from highest to lowest, and the demands placed upon anyone in a leadership position are specific: take charge, make decisions, be aggressive—lead!
The military system is designed to be flexible enough to accommodate a variety of leadership styles. This institutionalized “elbow room” allows the American leader the freedom, within organizational bounds, to improvise and give full range to the spontaneity which characterizes Americans in general. Another consequence of this policy is that there is no corporate definition of what particular techniques actually limit accepted leadership practice. This system encourages those points which have always been a hallmark of the American leader: aggressiveness, decisiveness, independent thought and decisionmaking, and spontaneity. This framework can support a variety of leadership styles, from authoritarian to charismatic. There is no attempt to enforce a single “correct" style of leadership. The only demand the sys-
tern makes upon the leader is that he accomplishes successfully his duties.
. Leadership, in an American sense, ls Usually regarded as an art, instead of a science. Because it is an art, mil- 'tary leadership is something which requires special skills to exercise, and 11 >s a discipline in which some are Wore successful than others.
Dynamic, forceful leadership is encouraged at every level of command !n the U. S. military from the most junior enlisted man to the most senior officer. The necessity for leadership t° be a personal manifestation of each supervisor’s military management technique is fundamental to U. S. mil- Uary philosophy and is essential to the Proper functioning of the U. S. military system.
Soviet military leadership: The U. S. system of individual leadership, encouraging spontaneity, initiative, and ^dependent action, is completely for- e|gn to the Soviet military mind. There ,s no more alien system of thought for a military organization which, like the socialist society it represents, absolutely rejects the importance of the individual. The “kollektiv,” or communal group, forms the center of all social and political intercourse in So- V|et society. Unlike the American sys- fem, in which individuality is cher- ■shed, the Soviets view collectivism as exerting the greatest influence upon human behavior. The concept of the kollektiv profoundly influences all aspects of Soviet society, including the military.
The Soviet military, like all orga- mzations, requires leadership in order to function properly. For the Soviets, fhe term leadership, and especially the mstitutional mechanism for its aopli- oation, differs in all respects from our own. The term is usually reserved for the role of the Communist Party in its guise as a secular religion, and rarely f° describe an individual effort. Marx- ,st-Leninist theory, which maintains that all things can be explained by ra- honal scientific observation, cannot accept a leadership system based on subjective, largely mysterious principles, as is the case with the U. S. philosophy of leadership. The subjectiv- •ty of U. S. leadership is the source °f some amusement to the Soviet military writer. The concepts of honor, integrity, idealism, and morality which form the moral ballast of the U. S. officer, are held in contempt by many
Soviet authors. Using the standard Marxist class-oriented interpretation of Western society, the Soviets write that in order to motivate his subordinates the American officer must resort to graft, bribery, namecalling, constraint, and scapegoating. Further, American officers “are mainly recruited from bourgeois elements, in order to ensure the class influence over privates and NCOs.”1 The Communist Party completely dominates the Soviet armed forces. The importance of the military was demonstrated to the Communists by both the 1905 and 1917 revolutions: the 1905 revolution was lost and the other won by the faction which controlled the military. This led the Communist Party to exert its influence over all aspects of every military organization. The communist leader Vladimir Lenin stated that although professional military professionals “will be in charge, we will place our own people alongside them. And we know from experience that this will lead to successful results.’”
The principles of Soviet military leadership are firmly based in Marxist- Leninist theory, which regards the development of leaders as a “class science” and bases the leadership training process on empirical, objective doctrine. The Soviets view leadership development as an objective instead of a subjective process, implying that leadership training can be reduced to a universally applicable set of procedures. Soviet leaders are developed by a “military pedagogic” process based on scientific theories; it attempts to fit all military leaders into a predetermined mold, ensuring uniform ideologic and political reliability. Unlike the U. S. system, in which developing a leadership style is a supremely individual matter, the Soviets favor a collective, predictable form of leadership development. Soviet officers are trained to be phlegmatic and self-disciplined, and officially there is no concept of the natural or charismatic leader. Soviet leaders are made, not born.
Soviet military pedagogy is formally defined as:
“The science of the objective laws of Communist education and training of fighting men . . . in the skilled conduct of modern combat . . . [it] forms the basis for the training of servicemen . . . and analyzes the activities of the commander as the
leader of his subordinates.”1 Soviet leadership is based on three pedagogic principles: training, ideological education, and formal education. Training and formal education are matched in the U. S. armed forces by an excellent network of basic-through- advanced education which attempts, as in the Soviet system, to instill the combat skill and psychological toughness necessary for armed conflict. These two principles form the basis for a cohesive fighting force in the U. S. military system, but they are not generally considered an active and integral part of the leadership process as they are in the Soviet military.
Ideological education has no counterpart in the U. S. system, and is one of the unique tools and strengths of the Soviet system. All echelons of the Soviet military are ceaselessly bombarded by communist propaganda to ensure cohesiveness and singlemindedness and to provide the Soviet fighting man with a strong sense of purpose. Heavy emphasis is placed on communist theory and ideology in an attempt to inculcate communist morality and an understanding of communist goals and convictions. It is ironic that the Soviets, who are openly contemptuous of religious convictions, idealism, and any other manifestations of “bourgeois morality,” depend upon a system which basically attempts to instill the same motivations in its own fighting men.
The Soviets place tremendous importance upon the proper indoctrination of their own armed forces. The Soviet military leader can tap the great emotional wellspring created by this educational process to motivate his subordinates; he has at his command fighting men who are absolutely convinced of the superiority of their political system. The goal of this powerful system of ideological education is to turn each fighting man into an ideological fanatic—a modern-day Cromwellian Roundhead—who is willing to die for the Soviet State.
The development of the requisite pedagogic expertise is a long and arduous process involving years of study and application to master. In order to develop his pedagogic skills the Soviet officer is charged to study:
“. . . classic Marxist-Leninism, the resolutions of the Communist Party . . . military regulations and instructions. . . [and] the military pedagogic works of outstanding mili-
An American military which is fully aware of its heritage and cognizant of the benefits and fruits of the freedom we all enjoy, can only serve to strengthen itself and the society which it defends.
The result will be a leader who, theoretically at least, is a truly authoritarian one, with the qualities of communist ideological convictions, professional preparedness, moral purity, discipline, restraint, tenacity, and pedagogic thought and skill.
The greatest advantage of the Soviet system of leadership is the cohesiveness brought about by the indoctrination process and the absolute political mastery the Communist Party holds over the military. The Soviet armed forces are literally the “shield and sword” of the Communist Party; all leaders are shaped in the same fashion using identical procedures; ensuring uniformity of efforts, results, and, some might argue, mediocrity.
The strengths of U. S. leadership are the spontaneity, initiative, and the independence of thought and action which are rightly emphasized at every level of the command structure. True leadership ability is regarded as something which cannot be taught. The American leader is allowed to exercise his own brand of leadership, unfettered by ideological judgments.
Because of the nature of Soviet leadership, the Soviets will prove to be formidable foes in any environment, but particularly in one which can be planned in advance, following a predictable pattern. These conditions, coupled with a superbly trained, equipped, motivated, and indoctrinated armed force, will form the optimum environment for the Soviet style of leadership. In such an environment it would be to our advantage to force a breakdown in the Soviet command and control structure and force the Soviet leader to think and act independently. He is not trained for an environment requiring initiative and spontaneity; if there is an institutional deficiency in the Soviet system, it exists in this area.
The U. S. armed forces are gradually eliminating those portions of the leadership development process which form the heart and foundation of the distinctive U. S. leadership style. We are moving more and more to a system which takes away individual initiative and substitutes a centralized command and control structure. One example is the aircraft carrier; The ship's captain interferes with the airwing, and the carrier air group commander overmanages the organization and working of his squadrons; the squadron commanding officers over-manage the division officers. The overall trend is both negative and insidious because it stifles those qualities which the system should be nurturing, and which it must have to function properly.
Another alarming trend is that our military system increasingly favors the administrator over the leader. Leadership is a dynamic process and quite often “the chips fly.” In many cases, a quieter, less threatening, more compliant administrator is favored over a dynamic and forceful leader of men. “A promotional system which stresses ‘loyalty to the boss’ more than performance” advances a manager who spends “little time looking at the big picture, instead occupying himself with miniscule matters . . . which should have been considered and disposed of . . . much farther down the . . . management line.”5 The result of this process is the “company man.” The company man is an excellent administrator: he will pick out a split infinitive or a comma splice in a heartbeat and can shuffle papers with the best of them, but he is a frightful leader of men. We are ill prepared as a military organization to institute a system of leadership which mimics the Soviet style and does not allow the leader full range of action and spontaneity. This works well for the Soviets, and they employ it exclusively. The way to ensure the continuance of dynamic leadership in our system is to reemphasize the strongest points of our system; individual decision-making, freedom of action by the leader, and the reinforcement of the development of the leader and leadership at the lowest echelon of command. This emphasis will require a rethinking of the nature of leadership, beginning at the highest echelons of the chain of command.
The U. S. military would benefit profoundly from a system of indoctrination similar to the Soviet process of ideological education. Those subjects which should be emphasized are the ideas and principles which are now regarded by many as maudlin. The force of our ideas, particularly in contrast with a system which is based upon the ideals of “atheism, totalitarianism, and communism,” are particularly powerful and effective. We should actively compare the differences between our two systems of government and social systems. This rivalry is not between opposing militaries, but between opposing systems of government and philosophy; we should emphasize our numerous strong points and their numerous weak points.
The mechanism for instituting this program already exists. We should include just such a program of awareness at all boot camps and basic training courses for every branch of the military. An American military which is fully aware of its heritage and cognizant of the benefits and fruits of the freedom we all enjoy can only serve to strengthen itself and the society which it defends.
It is the essence of leadership which proves to be so elusive and troublesome. The Soviets believe that this essence can be reduced to a system and can be taught using scientific principles. The Americans, on the other hand, regard the essence of leadership as undefinable. However, the only true test of the military leader is whether or not he can compel men to follow him. And American leadership is best stated by the U. S. Army infantry's motto: “Follow me.” 'S. N. Kozlov. Editor. The Officer's Handbook, translated under the auspices of the U. S. Air Force as Vol. 13 of the Soviet Military Thought series (U. S. Government Printing Office. 1977)
-Roy A. Medvedev, Lei History Judge, translated by Colleen Taylor (New York: Vintage Books, 1971), p. 14.
'Kozlov, op. cit.. p. 67.
JIbid. p. 105.
'John Z. DeLorean and J. Patrick Wright. On a
Clear Day Yon Can See GeneraI Motors. (Avon Books. 1979). p. 250 and p. 8. respectively.